Last night I was asked to help out at a Harlem Stage Think Tank event: “What is the Soundtrack to Harlem’s Future?” It was a wonderful night paying homage to Harlem’s history, a real reflection on gentrification, and a celebration of Harlem’s vibrant community of artists. I am very grateful that I was able to be there. It was a vital moment for me, and ignited an old desire to change my company name.
I have to thank one artist in particular, Jaylene Clark Owens, for being there to perform a section from her play, “Renaissance in the Belly of a Killer Whale!” Her performance was a inspiring recitation of “SoHa”, a piece about Harlem’s gentrification, with lines like, “…Which is why I just don’t understand how some people are trying to turn my home’s name into a brand, trying to box it, and squeeze it, into some four letter package. Being from ‘SoHa’ was not, and never will be, a part of my heritage….if you asked me, nothing sounds cooler then living in HARLEM” The words she spoke resonated a deep awakening in me that I came head-to-head with.
She also recited, “…It would be the culture and the history that made me chose it.” And that is exactly why I love living in, and fell in love with Harlem. Its deep history reflects the vibrancy, originality, essence and drive that I feel in myself. I am not from Harlem, but I feel more at home here then anywhere else. And most of all, it reminds me of where I grew up, in St. Croix.
When I decided to name my company SoHa Dance, I thought about gentrification and whether it was the right choice. I decided to go with it because it was a play on my own name (Sarah Horne) and a homage to the neighborhood that I love and live in. But by using “SoHa Dance”, I am taking away from the expansiveness and diversity of Harlem’s history, and giving in to the worst parts of gentrification. The term “SoHa” was used as early as 1997, becoming a tag name and sign of gentrification for the southern edges of Harlem to make it more marketable to investors. This has happened before in NYC and it will continue to happen, but that doesn’t mean I need to represent it. The Harlem I know is a major African-American and Latino community, home to important historic landmarks and leaders, and especially known for the “Harlem Renaissance,” an unprecedented outpouring of artistic work in the black community. My point here is that I am absolutely a part of the gentrification happening in Harlem – that’s undeniable. I am a white female artist and I moved to Harlem in 2011. However, I want to honor the place and history of where I live in, instead of cutting it into pieces and becoming a false representation. And importantly, what can I bring to the table for the Harlem community in a positive and progressive way? This is why I think my company’s name, and change of name, is important. Several months ago I thought about it and after last night, I knew it was right. It’s time to take action about something I believe in. That’s the power of art, human stories, and connections: it gives us true reflection and helps us take real action.
I’m very excited for our new name: RahDanceWorks. It’s also a play off my name, but most importantly…..With my mission to promote positive connections through movement, I look forward to moving the Company into a new era of light, love, learning, and growth through the power of pure – raw – dance. I believe that movement is for everyone – regardless of ability, age, race, or sexuality. At its most raw and basic level, dance connects people across cultures and can break down barriers. This is why I love moving. A dance CAN create change.
As some of you may know, this will be the second shift in names I’ve had. Third times a charm, right?! Sometimes it takes us awhile to get to the source of who we are and what we represent, and I am not one to judge a process. I never liked using my full name for my company, since my works and productions are very collaborative, so it’s taken some time to find the right fit. Over the next few weeks I’ll be in the process of updating the website and all materials related to the Company. I hope you enjoy the new name and find this blog helpful in the reasons behind the change.
Thank you all for your endless support!
P.S. Go here to see her a recorded performance of Jaylene’s “SoHa”!